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willoyd

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About willoyd

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    Bradford
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    cycling, running, family history
  1. HMS Surprise by Patrick O'Brian *****(*) The third volume of the Aubrey-Maturin series, and one in which O'Brian really starts to hit his stride. An extended introductory section, with Aubrey on blockade duty in the Mediterranean with the Lively, and Maturin on an intelligence mission, leads to a daring escapade and a brief sojourn in England before proceeding with the main meat of the novel, the cruise of HMS Surprise into the Indian Ocean. Once again, it is O'Brian's characters that dominate the story. It's an interesting approach that the author takes: whilst we are often privy to the inner thoughts of Stephen Maturin, particularly those expressed in his private diary, we are generally only able to observe Jack Aubrey from the outside. Both are complex characters (Maturin in particular), very different as friends often are, but fiercely attached to each other, even though they are more than aware of each other's faults - the mark of true friendship? Other characters are also starting to develop: they may not appear in every scene, indeed in every novel, but a web is clearly being spun. Some reviewers find the stories a bit slow paced, with not enough action. True perhaps, if that is what you regard as the most important element, but compared to the likes of Forester, Kent, Pope et al (and I never really got into the latter two, although loved the first), there is so much more to these novels than mere action. Having said that, HMS Surprise isn't exactly short of it, even if it's not always broadside to broadside, and the increased tempo and stronger focus of the narrative are key reasons behind why this makes for a much more satisfyingly complete book on its own than Post Captain. And when the action does take off, it does so with a vengeance, leaving the others bobbling, nay floundering, around in his wake. O'Brian certainly has me on the edge of my seat, be it storm or conflict (later edit: I can only agree with Ting - the storm is spine tingling in its intensity). This is definitely a series that needs to be read in order, and whilst no book has yet gained an outright 6 stars, the series as a whole most certainly has. Indeed, I'd go so far as to say that, taken as a whole, it's now amongst my top half dozen 'novels', and I'm having to restrain myself from plunging straight into the fourth volume: I really do need to read something else now!
  2. Post Captain ***** The second volume in the Aubrey/Maturin series. The more I read, the more I wonder why on earth I let my reading of this series drift off course. This volume focuses primarily on the development of his two central characters, their relationship, and their relationships, the latter becoming rather fraught as romantic liaisons and financial challenges contribute to a heady mix. It was already clear that Aubrey is much more at home at sea, the phrase 'a fish out of water' never being more apposite when on land, whilst Maturin's much more considered, double life starts to play an increasingly prominent part, as do his landlubberly eccentricities! The plot itself can be split into three phrases: a sojourn ashore, in England and France, which establishes a whole new set of relationships and circumstances for the two men; a stint aboard the ungainly Polychrest, an abomination of a construction, and the final section on the distinctly more seaworthy Lively. O'Brian's writing is sublime, drawing the reader inexorably in. There are some superb sequences, one particular action on the Polychrest being ferociously exciting, edge of the seat reading, and the book reaches a satisfying climax. However, taken as a whole, the plot has more a feel of transition and long term establishment than a stand-alone story; it was also, for me, a bit slow to get underway - so early in the sequence I didn't want to spend so long ashore (later edit: looks to me as Ting might agree?). So, whilst increasingly engrossing and unputdownable (not a book to be read whilst commuting, which I found myself doing at one stage!), I would definitely not want to read this out of sequence, and there's a distinct feeling that most strands are to be continued, if not resolved. I suspect from what I've read from reviews of the series, that this will apply at various other stages of the sequence as well, but it does mean that in itself , Post Captain doesn't quite reach the heights of an individual favourite. The series already is, but as a stand-alone book, this has to lose a star. But what a start to a story - I can't wait for the rest, and am actually delighted that there is so much to go at (eighteen more volumes!). PS I've just acquired Anthony Gary Brown's The Patrick O'Brian Muster Book. It requires a certain amount of care using it, as there are spoilers in individual entries, but it's a superb reference, including all the characters, ships and locations in the series, and particularly strong on the history behind the fiction. Makes an excellent partner to the two Dean King volumes I already have (Sea of Words, Harbors and High Seas). i suppose I'm a lost cause already!
  3. Master and Commander ***** I started reading Patrick O'Brians famous Aubrey/Maturin series of books, set in the naval world of the early nineteenth century, some years ago. I'm not very good at sustaining a series though, and after the first four, all of which I rated highly, it petered out - goodness knows why. The new year seemed a good time to pick this sequence up again. Given the gap, I decided to start from the beginning (a very good place to start!). Master and Commander has the same title as the Russell Crowe film, but that was primarily based on the tenth book, The Far Side of the World (as it was subtitled), and there is little other than the odd, minor episode translated from this book to the film. The film was, I thought, good, very good. Indeed, it is one of my favourite half dozen films (and I'm not even a particular fan of Russell Crowe). The book, however, is far, far better! In Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, the friendship between whom is the linchpin of the book and the series, O'Brian has created, in my opinion, two of the great characters of twentieth-century literature, as well as one of the most interesting relationships: Aubrey, a big man, inclined to overweight, bluff, inclined almost to boorishness on occasions, quick-tempered, music lover, riven with insecurity in relationships, yet so confident in his role as a naval officer, almost childlike when it comes to women; Maturin, small, lean, intellectually curious, full of human insight except where his own life is concerned, secretive....I could go on with both, they are so well developed. Together they make a formidable literary team. O'Brian not only has some wonderful characters (it's not just Aubrey and Maturin who come so alive for me), but an ability to tell a great story. He makes no bones about the fact that much of what he includes is founded on historical fact. Indeed, the role played by Aubrey is based strongly on the real-life personage of Thomas Cochrane, Earl of Dundonald, a famous naval figure of the Napoleonic Wars (and later). Many of the episodes in Master and Commander are lifted straight from reality: the fictional HMS Sophie is the alter-ego for the historical HMS Speedy, for the Cacafuego read El Gamo, whilst the descriptions of the climatic actions of the last fifty pages or so, even if seen through Aubrey's eyes (who was in the same position as Cochrane was at the time), could almost be an historical recount. The book is equally littered with real historical characters, right down to the captains of the various ships (and the master of HMS Speedy was also a Mr Marshall - surely no coincidence given O'Brian's attention to detail). But, there is no doubt that this is a work of fiction, and that O'Brian is more than capable of weaving his own highly intricate web. There are one or two issues that readers have faced on encountering this series. In particular one of the first things the reader notes is that O'Brian doesn't take any prisoners on the technical front. His language is full of the naval jargon of the time, and a fighting sailing ship involves a huge amount of it! Many readers have complained about this, frustrated at being unable to tell stays from shrouds, royals from topgallants! Equally, O'Brian so gets into the early nineteenth century mind, that some readers have found it hard to follow the whys and wherefores of what is happening. Well, that is certainly one way of looking at this book. Another way is to recognise the richness of what O'Brian is doing, immersing the reader as much as possible in the lives of the characters. In fact, when I first read Master and Commander, I had little comprehension myself of what the jargon meant. However, if you just let it flow over you for the moment, O'Brian usually finds a way to explain it. Thus, early on in the book, Maturin, a landlubber himself, is taken up the mast of the Sophie, and has the masts and rigging explained by one of the seaman. Stays? Shrouds? No problem now! And if you don't understand completely, and want to (I actually enjoyed several books without fully understanding all the technical words by any means), there are some brilliant companion volumes available (I found myself relying mainly on Dean King's), which in themselves make for fascinating browsing. Whilst one needs them less and less, they become more and more interesting! This all might seem hard work, and I suppose it might be if, as one Amazon reviewer commented, one believes that books should stand on their own and life is too short for it to be otherwise. But what O'Brian has done with this book (and later ones) is go beyond that, to something that attempts to take the reader beyond the confines of the book, into a world that is vividly real. It's a bit like watching a large screen HD television for the first time, after being used to a standard one for years. I'm already looking forward to the next exciting episode!!
  4. Sorry, first day contributing after a while away and then a while lurking, but actually subscribed to the board for some years. I used to be active a few years ago, but it seems that the vast majority of my posts from the past have disappeared. My apologies if I was being cheeky. On rereading, I can see why you feel that. It was meant to be a positive comment, with a suggestion bolted to the end to help others coming to this fresh, but there was rather more suggestion than positive. A late night lack of concentration is the only excuse I can offer. Sorry Ting, and thank you for taking it so well. Perhaps the review below might be a bit more helpful.
  5. I thoroughly enjoyed your review of Master and Commander, but am really glad, relieved in fact, that I came across it after finishing the book, as there are so many spoilers in it, that my enjoyment of the book would have been severely impaired if I'd come across it any earlier. As it stands, I will have to avoid your later posts until after reading the respective books, but will look forward to reading them then. Maybe a spoiler alert at the start would be helpful for others? On the nationality/origin of Stephen Maturin. I'm fairly sure that O'Brian is being deliberately obscure. The Irish roots are obvious, but there are strong implications that he has Spanish, probably Catalan connections too. However, O'Brian already appears to want to encourage the reader to work things out rather than saying so straightforwardly; there are several such instances in M&C alone.
  6. Book Lists 2015

    January 01. The Woman Who Dived into the Heart of the World - Sabine Berman (Jan 7) G *** 02. Just One Damned Thing After Another - Jodi Taylor (Jan 10) **** 03. Master and Commander - Patrick O'Brian (Jan 17) R ***** CR. Waterloo - Tim Clayton CR. Post Captain - Patrick O'Brian Ratings * Disliked this, rarely finished. ** Disappointing, may be unfinished. *** OK, but not unputdownable. **** A good, involving read, hard to put down. ***** Excellent, outstanding. ****** An all-time favourite. CR= current reading, U=unfinished, A=audiobook, R=reread, G=Reading group read
  7. Paper books vs. eBooks

    The implication in the article is that later Kindles use back lighting, and are thus likely to cause sleep problems. The fact is that they don't use back lighting: the lighting is in front of the screen, and is thus reflected off the screen to the eyes, just like light from the original Kindles and paper books. There are e-readers that use back lighting, but the Kindle is not one of them, and will thus, shouldn't affect sleep in the way described. When you dig into the paper itself, the actual reading devices used were: iPad iPad2 iPod Touch iPhone Kindle Kindle Fire Nook Color paper book Of these, the Kindle and book were listed as non-light emitters. So, what is actually being tested here, aside from the Kindle and the book, are not lit e-ink readers, like the Kindle Paperwhite, but a range of devices all relying on backlit LCD displays, only one of which is advertised as an e-reader (the Nook Color) A very different proposition to that described in the article. In addition, I understand (but haven't been able to access the meat of the article) that the sample size tested was 12; a bit low (understatement)! All in all, this cannot be described as conclusive. Nor can the article be described as accurate reporting! I used to have a Kindle 3 (keyboard), and changed to a Paperwhite last year, mainly because I wanted the lit screen (bedside light disturbing sleeping partner!). I'm really pleased - the Paperwhite is a much easier read: lighter, easier to handle, greater range of fonts (the serifed fonts are far better than those on the 3), all round better experience. As a result, as much as I adore paper books (and have a collection to prove it!), I find myself reading my Kindle more and more.
  8. Online Bookshelf Sites

    I use LibraryThing quite a lot, mainly to keep a catalogue of my books; I also take part in one or two specialist discussion groups. Otherwise, my main reading record is a spreadsheet.
  9. Scotland's Independence

    I have absolutely no desire to see an English assembly - simply more of the same, just under an English rather than a UK banner, keeping power centralised and in the hands of the same old, discredited crew. What the Scots highlighted is the need for devolution - English regional assemblies with real teeth, and power moving away from the centre.
  10. Scotland's Independence

    I couldn't disagree with you more.
  11. Scotland's Independence

    Thanks for clearing that up for me (and others?). However I don't think it would have changed the salient point, which is that it would have been Scotland's decision to leave the rest of the Union. Incidentally, you may not think of Wales as a country, but I'm proud to have competed for my country! Looks at this moment as if the vote has gone down the 'No' route. However, a bigger vote for independence than was expected/predicted if one goes back a few months, a strength of feeling that surely cannot be ignored on such a high turnout (84%!). It may be profoundly disappointing to those who wanted independence, but hopefully it will drive through change that will benefit all British - I'm hoping that those living in Scotland have done us all a huge favour, whatever our country of residence.
  12. Scotland's Independence

    The reason is that Scotland would be leaving the United Kingdom. The UK is the member of the EU/UN etc. On a Scottish decision to withdraw from the UK, the UK would remain as a union between the other countries and retain what it currently holds. Nothing to do with any inequality between England and Scotland, nor any assumption by the English or Welsh or Northern Irish.
  13. A Month in the Country

    Carr is one of my favourite writers, and A Month in the Country one of my favourites of his books. Another is The Harpole Report, a comic epistolary style novel of school life - one of the very few genuinely funny books I've ever read. The reason Megustaleer struggles to come across his books, is that they are all now published by The Quince Tree Press, Carr's own publishing 'company', now run by his sun. But they are definitely worth hunting out - idiosyncratic and full of life. Byron Rogers's life of JL Carr (The Last Englishman - a title more recently adopted for an Arthur Ransome biography) explains much I wanted to know about him, and was a thoroughly enjoyable read - definitely one of the best biogs I've read. (BTW I agree about the Folio edition of A Month In The Country too).
  14. Do you break the spines of books you read?

    If you are odd ennui, then so am I. Break a spine? Never! I won't buy one with a broken spine either, and am incredibly fussy in bookshops at the state that new books are in when I buy them. Nor will I put a book face down - and the children in my class aren't allowed to either but must use a bookmark (more a case of trying to preserve the books as long as possible rather than personal aesthetics though!).
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